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Soju Madness

Yes, finally spring has arrived!  It’s getting warm out, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and for me that means one thing: It’s time to barbecue, people! The moment it gets nice out I go buy fresh ingredients like ground beef for burgers and kebabs,chicken and lots of vegetables and immediately throw them on the barbie. It’s in my blood as an Israeli, I can’t survive without grilling at least twice a week.  When you’re born in Israel the doctor grabs you by the legs, smacks your ass and puts a bag of charcoal in one hand and a pack of skewers in the other so you’re ready to light a charcoal flame.  You’re born with the ability and the will to BBQ! So you can imagine how miserable I get in the winter when the wind chill prevents me from being outside and flipping steaks.
One snowy, harsh winter day my friend introduced me to a new style of BBQ.  He took me to a little family owned Korean BBQ restaurant in New Jersey where I was amazed to discover that you can grill while sitting down, never having to leave the table. I was happy again!
If you don’t know what Korean BBQ is, it refers to the Korean method of grilling meat on gas or charcoal grills that are built into the center of the table. Some Korean restaurants that do not have built-in grills provide portable stoves for diners to use at their tables.  One of the most popular meats to grill is called bulgogi which is usually made from thinly sliced beef sirloin or tenderloin. Another popular form of it is galbi made from marinated beef shortribs.
Korean barbecue is not only popular among Korean consumers but has gained popularity internationally.It just so happens to be that a member of the  COOK crew is related to a Korean bbq legend! Chef Yudi Millan, Jackie’s aunt, used to own a restaurant in Marlton, New Jersey called the Pacific Grille.
When I came to class to take photos I felt like a kid in a candy store, the table was packed with a variety of little ramekins: pickled veggies, noodles, marinated tofu, sprouts and many more. To my surprise that was only the beginning.

Next to each seat was a sushi rolling kit so everyone could experience first hand how to do it on their own.  Yudi wanted to make sure that the environment at her class would be as close as possible to a traditional experience so she took us step by step and served us in the same order she would have at her place.  First came salads, then sushi & soup and then we munched on some “Pa-Jun”-scallion pancakes.  Of course you can’t have a Korean meal without drinking, and drinking a lot!  If you didn’t know, the Koreans have a very elaborate drinking culture and alcohol is an important part of every meal.  So lets start drinking!!!  For the first time ever I had the pleasure of trying Soju, a neutral spirit that has about 20% ABV and is the official alcohol of Korea(In 2004 3 billion bottles of Soju were sold in Korea).  Initially it was made out of rice but due to rationing during the Korean War the government prohibited the use of rice so Soju makers started to use sweet potato and tapioca; modern Soju makers use rice as well as sweet potato & tapioca. To me it tasted like diluted vodka that doesn’t burn on the way down and has half the alcohol content so that means… I can drink twice as much!

After a few shots of Soju, Yudi started grilling the meats, which she marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar and many more spices overnight.  The marinated short ribs and chicken hit the grill and the heavenly aroma very quickly made us all drool in anticipation. I’m not going to lie…I don’t remember much more after that due to the amount of Soju that was flowing, but I do know it was an unforgettable class.  Thank you, Chef Yudi Millan, and I truly hope we shall see you once again mastering the grill at COOK!

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